Latinos by a 2-1 margin disapprove of how President Obama is handling deportations of illegal residents, but by an even larger margin, Latino voters favor him over Mitt Romney, according to a new survey by the Pew Hispanic Center.
The Obama administration has presided over a record number of deportations of illegal residents, a policy that has drawn extensive criticism from Latino leaders. By 59% to 27%, Latinos — citizens and noncitizens — say they disapprove of how the administration is handling the issue, according to the poll, released Wednesday.
Obama’s overall approval rating among all Latinos in the survey was 49% — a figure consistent with findings of other recent surveys and a sharp decline from his standing earlier in his administration.
However, that disapproval does not appear to have spilled over to how Latinos expect to vote. Among the registered voters in the survey, Obama led Romney in a hypothetical matchup by 68% to 23% — about the same margin by which Obama defeated John McCain among Latino voters in 2008, according to exit polls. The other Republican tested, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, did no better, losing to Obama in the hypothetical matchup 69% to 23%.
Republicans have been hoping that disapproval of Obama’s policies would erode support for the president among Latinos, whose backing he cannot afford to lose.
But some Republican strategists have worried that their hopes of converting Latino voters would be blocked by the strong anti-illegal-immigrant positions that Romney and other GOP hopefuls have taken. The poll indicates those fears could be well-grounded. Asked which of the two parties has more concern for them, only 12% of Latinos surveyed cited the GOP, while 45% said Democrats.
The survey also showed that the gap between Latinos identifying as Democrats and those identifying as Republicans has widened over the last few years. In 2008, 65% of Latino registered voters surveyed by Pew identified themselves as Democrats while 26% identified as Republicans. Now, the Democratic share has risen to 67% while the GOP share has dropped to 20% — a finding that could be explained by increased registration among foreign-born Latinos, who lean more strongly to Democrats than do the native-born.
Pew estimates that 21.7 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in 2012 — up 2 million from 2008.
The poll also indicated that many Latinos do not know that deportations have risen under Obama’s watch. Among native-born Latinos, only 25% said they thought deportations were higher under Obama than under George W. Bush, while 44% said the records of the two were about the same.
Illegal residents were much more likely to be aware that deportations have risen. They, of course, can’t vote.
The survey was based on land-line and cellphone interviews of with 1,220 Latino adults, including 557 registered voters, with interviews done in both English and Spanish. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.